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This article details the history of the Arizona Cardinals American Football Club. The Cardinals are the oldest existing professional football club in the United States.

Chicago years (1898–1959)Edit

The Cardinals began as an amateur athletic club team in Chicago named the Morgan Athletic Club, which was founded by Chicago painter/builder Chris O'Brien in 1898. In 1913 the team turned professional.

O'Brien later moved them to Chicago's Normal Park and renamed them the Racine Normals, since Normal Park was located on Racine Avenue in Chicago. In 1901, O'Brien bought used maroon uniforms from the University of Chicago, the colors of which had by then faded, leading O'Brien to exclaim, "That's not maroon, it's cardinal red!" It was then that the team changed its name to the Racine Cardinals.

The team disbanded in 1906 mostly for lack of local competition, but reformed in 1913. They were forced to suspend operations for a second time in 1918 due to World War I and the outbreak of the Spanish Flu Pandemic. They resumed operations later in the year, and have since operated continuously.

1920sEdit

In 1920, the team became a charter member of the American Professional Football Association (which became the NFL in 1922), for a franchise fee of $100USD. The Cardinals and the Bears (originally founded as the Decatur Staleys before moving to Chicago in 1921) are the only charter members of the NFL still in existence, though the Green Bay Packers, who joined the league in 1921, existed prior to the formation of the NFL. The person keeping the minutes of the first league meeting, unfamiliar with the nuances of Chicago football, recorded the Cardinals as from Racine, Wisconsin. The team was renamed the Chicago Cardinals in 1922 after a team actually from Racine, Wisconsin (the Horlick-Racine Legion) entered the league. That season the team moved to Comiskey Park.

The Staleys and Cardinals played each other twice in 1920[1] as the Racine Cardinals and the Decatur Staleys, making their rivalry the oldest in the NFL. They split the series, with the home team winning in each. In the Cardinals 7-6 victory over the Staleys in their first meeting of the season, each team scored a TD on a fumble recovery, with the Staleys failing their extra point try.[2]

The Cardinals' defeat of the Staleys proved critical, since George Halas's Staleys went on to a 10-1-2 record overall, 5-1-2 in league play. The Akron Pros were the first ever league champions, they finished with an 8-0-3 record, 6-0-3 in league play, ending their season in a 0-0 tie against the Staleys. Since the Pros merely had to tie the game in order to win the title, they could afford to play not to lose. Had the Staleys not lost to the Cardinals, they would have gone into that fateful game with an 11-0-1 record, 6-0-1 in league play. As it was, it all but assured that the Staleys/Bears and Cardinals would be intense rivals.

The two teams played to a tie in 1921,[1] when the Staleyes won all but 2 games, thus the Cardinals came within 1 point of costing the Staleys a second consecutive championship in the league's first 2 years of existence.

In 1922, the Bears went 9-3-0,[3] losing to the Cardinals twice. The Bears still edged the Cardinals for 2nd place in the league, but those losses dashed all hopes of the Bears repeating as champions.[4]

In 1923 and 1924, the Bears got the better of the Cardinals all three times the two teams played.[5][6] But in 1925, the Bears went 0-1-1 against the Cardinals with the tie meaning the Cardinals were only a 1/2 game in front of the Pottsville Maroons heading into their fateful 1925 showdown.[1]

Thus, in the first 6 years of the NFL's existence, the Bears-Cardinals games had a direct impact on the league championship 4 times. The Bears and Cardinals each took home 1 title during that span. But the Bears nearly cost the Cardinals their title, the Cardinals nearly cost the Bears their title and but for the Cardinals tenacity against the Bears, the Bears very well might have won 2 others. The Bears were a dominant team against everyone but the Cardinals in the leagues early years. From 1920-1925 the Canton Bulldogs, champions in 1922 and 1923, beat the Bears just 2 times and no other team in the NFL defeated the Bears more than once over that entire 6 year span...except the Cardinals. The Cardinals battled the Bears to 4-4-2 split between 1920–1925 and established the NFL first rivalry.[1]

Legend has it that the Cardinals played the Chicago Tigers in 1920, with the loser being forced to leave town. While this has never been proven, the Tigers did disband after one season.

The Cardinals won their first NFL championship in 1925, finishing the season with a record of 11-2-1. In a controversial ruling by the league, the Pottsville Maroons, the team with the best record, had their franchise revoked for violating the territorial rights of the Frankford Yellow Jackets. Thus, the Cardinals won the 1925 title by default. (For more on the controversy, see 1925 NFL Championship controversy.)

1930sEdit

The Cardinals posted a winning record only twice in the twenty years after their 1925 championship (1931 and 1935); including 10 straight losing seasons from 1936 to 1945.

Dr. David Jones bought the team from O'Brien in 1929. In 1932 the team was purchased by Charles Bidwill, then a vice president of the Chicago Bears. The team has been under the ownership of the Bidwill family since then.

1940sEdit

In 1944, owing to player shortages caused by World War II, the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers merged for one year and were known as the "Card-Pitt", or derisively as the "Carpets" as they were winless that season. In 1945, the Cardinals snapped their losing streak by beating the Bears 16-7. It was their only victory of the season. In 1946, the team finished 6-5 for the first winning season in eight years.

In 1947, the NFL standardized on a 12-game season. This would be the most celebrated year in Cardinals history as the team went 9-3, beating Philadelphia in the championship game 28-21 with their "Million-Dollar Backfield", which included quarterback Paul Christman, halfback Charley Trippi, halfback Elmer Angsman, and fullback Pat Harder, piling up 282 rushing yards. However, Bidwill was not around to see it; he'd died before the season, leaving the team to his wife Violet. He had, however, beaten the Chicago Rockets of the upstart All-America Football Conference for the rights to Trippi. This signing is generally acknowledged as the final piece in the championship puzzle. The next season saw the Cardinals finish 11-1 and again play in the championship game, but lost 7-0 in a rematch with the Eagles, played in a heavy snowstorm that almost completely obscured the field. This was the first NFL championship to be televised. The next year, Violet Bidwill married St. Louis businessman Walter Wolfner, and the Cardinals fell to 6-5-1.

1950sEdit

The 1950s were a dismal period for the Cardinals, with records of 5-7 (1950), 3-9 (1951), 4-8 (1952), 1-10-1 (1953), 2-10 (1954), 4-7-1 (1955), 7-5 (1956; the best year of the decade), 3-9 (1957), 2-9-1 (1958), and 2-10 (1959). With just 33 wins in ten seasons, the Cardinals were nearly forgotten in Chicago, being completely overshadowed by the Bears. Attendance at games was sparse and the team was almost bankrupt. The Bidwills engineered a deal with the NFL that sent the Cardinals to St. Louis, Missouri beginning with the 1960 season, a move which also blocked St. Louis as a market against the new American Football League.

St. Louis years (1960–1987)Edit

The NFL conducted a survey of St. Louis and concluded that it was capable of supporting a team. The league's 12 owners unanimously approved the Cardinals' move. During the Cardinals' stay in St. Louis, two major Cardinal teams (football and baseball) called the city home. Sports fans and local news broadcasters called them "the football Cardinals" or "the baseball Cardinals" to distinguish the two. To avoid confusion, the NFL contemplated changing the Cardinals' name, but then dropped the idea. They shared Sportsman's Park with the baseball team, but professional football was new to St. Louis, and tickets were difficult to sell. The Cardinals initially held practices in the city park. Their first home game was a loss to the Giants on October 2, 1960, and they finished the year at 6-5-1 (the NFL had expanded to a 14-game season to compete with the upstart AFL). In 1961, they broke even at 7-7 and fell to 4-9 in 1962. Improving to 9-5 in 1963, the Cardinals almost reached the playoffs, but a loss to the Giants prevented that.

During the Cardinals' 28-year stay in St. Louis, they advanced to the playoffs just three times (1974, 1975 & 1982), never hosting or winning in any appearance. In spite of what was considered lackluster performance in St. Louis, their overall record there, of 187 wins, 202 losses, and 13 ties (.481 winning percentage) is easily the highest winning percentage for any of the three locations that the Cardinals have been associated with.

1960sEdit

The new St. Louis football Cardinals were much improved, and the team was competitive for much of the 1960s. New stars emerged in Larry Wilson, Charley Johnson, Jim Bakken, Sonny Randle, and Jim Hart. Violet Bidwill Wolfner died in 1962, and her sons, Bill and Charles, Jr. took control. Although the Cardinals were competitive again in the '60s, they failed to achieve a playoff appearance during the decade, as only four teams qualified during this period. In 1964, the Bidwells, unsatisfied with St. Louis, considered moving the team to Atlanta. They wanted a new stadium, and that city was planning the construction of one. However, St. Louis persuaded them to stay with the promise of a stadium (a new expansion team, the Falcons, was eventually created for Atlanta). The Cardinals got off to a good start, and tied the Cleveland Browns 33-33 on the road. They finished 9-4-1 and second in the Eastern Conference, but a victory by the Browns over the New York Giants denied them a playoff berth. The team finished the year with a meaningless win over the Packers.

A 4-1 start to the 1965 season evaporated into a 5-9 finish. In 1966, the Cardinals were in first place in the Eastern Conference with an 8-2-1 record, but a loss to the Dallas Cowboys, which went on to win the conference title, started a three-game losing streak to end the season, leaving St. Louis at 8-5-1. Another middling season followed in 1967, with six wins, seven losses, and one tie.

In 1968, the Cardinals swept the Cleveland Browns and ended the year with a 9-4-1 mark, but a loss to a sub-par San Francisco 49ers club and a tie against the woeful Pittsburgh Steelers kept the Cardinals out of the playoffs.

St. Louis fell back to 4-9-1 in 1969, but that season saw the debut of Roger Wehrli, a star safety at the University of Missouri who played 14 seasons for the Cardinals and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

1970sEdit

In 1970, the Cardinals were placed in the new NFC East division following the merger with the AFL. They posted three consecutive shutouts in November, blanking the Houston Oilers, Boston Patriots, and the Cowboys, the last of those victories coming 38-0 on Monday Night Football in the Cotton Bowl. But St. Louis collapsed down the stretch, losing December games to the New York Giants, Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins to finish 8-5-1 and out of the playoffs. The Cardinals then regressed to three consecutive 4-9-1 seasons from 1971-73. Bill Bidwill became sole owner in 1972 and still owns the team today. Only the New York Giants and Chicago Bears have been in the hands of one family longer than the Cardinals.

Larry Wilson retired following the 1972 season, and in 1973, Don Coryell, who built a powerhouse program at San Diego State became head coach. The Cardinals registered a 7-0 record to open the 1974 season and won the NFC East championship on the strength of a season sweep of the Redskins. In the franchise's first playoff game since 1948, St. Louis took an early 7-0 lead against the Minnesota Vikings in Bloomington, Minnesota, but a missed field goal just before halftime sapped the Cardinals' momentum. The Vikings scored 16 points in the first seven minutes of the second half and cruised to a 30-14 victory.

The Cardinals won the NFC East again in 1975, despite a 32-14 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving. The playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams was a disaster: Lawrence McCutcheon set an NFL playoff record by rushing for 202 yards, and Jack Youngblood and Bill Simpson returned interceptions for touchdowns, staking the Rams to a 28-9 halftime lead en route to a 35-23 victory at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

During this period, the Cardinals boasted an effective offense in the wake of a record-setting offensive line which included standouts Dan Dierdorf, Conrad Dobler, and Tom Banks.

This period for the franchise was characterized by exciting close games, come-from-behind nailbiters, and several frustrating near-misses. The press and league fans began to call the team the "Cardiac Cardinals". Team stars from the 1970s included Wehrli, wide receiver Mel Gray, and running backs Terry Metcalf and Jim Otis.

On Thanksgiving Day, 1976, the Cardinals suffered a controversial loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Cardinal tight end J. V. Cain, running an apparent game-winning route, was shoved out of the end zone by Dallas defensive backs Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters in what appeared to be obvious interference, but a penalty was not called.[1] With this loss, the Cardinals were dethroned from the divisional lead and became the first NFC team to reach 10 wins without qualifying for the playoffs, losing a tiebreaker to the Redskins due to Washington's sweep of the season series.

In 1977, the Cardinals started slowly but won 6 consecutive games before losing the Thanksgiving Day game to the Miami Dolphins, 55-14. Bob Griese's record-setting day turned out to be the first of 12 straight losses for the Cardinals (extending into 1978), a streak which included being only the second team ever to lose to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the first to lose in Tampa Stadium. Coryell and several key players, including Dobler and Metcalf, departed the team at the end of the 1977 season.

For the 1978 season, Bidwill hired Bud Wilkinson, famous for building a football dynasty in 17 seasons at the University of Oklahoma. But Wilkinson, who had been out of coaching since retiring from the Sooners following the 1963 season, could not turn the Cardinals around. St. Louis started 1978 with eight straight losses and finished at 6-10, and Wilkinson was fired in 1979 with the Cardinals at 3-10 and last in the NFC East. Wilkinson was canned by Bidwill for refusing to bench quarterback Jim Hart in favor of rookie Steve Pisarkiewicz. Larry Wilson, the Pro Football Hall of Fame safety who starred for the Cardinals for 13 seasons, coached the final three games of the 1979 season, finishing with a 5-11 record.

The Cardinals experienced several years of notoriously poor drafts and unfortunate personnel moves in the late 1970s, typified by the first-round selection of kicker Steve Little, who was paralyzed in a 1980 automobile accident, and hiring Wilkinson in 1978. The team also suffered a tragic loss during 1979 training camp when Cain died of a heart attack.

1980sEdit

However, the Cardinals had some success in the early 1980s, posting three consecutive winning seasons from 1982 to 1984. The heart of this squad was the prolific trio of quarterback Neil Lomax, wide receiver Roy Green, and running back Ottis Anderson. Stellar performances by Anderson couldn't salvage the Cardinals' 1980 and 1981 campaigns, which ended at 5-11 and 7-9, respectively.

In 1982, the Cardinals qualified for the expanded 16-team playoff field with a 5-4 mark in the strike-shortened year, but fell 41-16 to the Green Bay Packers.

St. Louis finished 1983 at 8-7-1, including victories over the eventual Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Raiders and the Seattle Seahawks, who lost to the Raiders in the AFC championship game.

The Cardinals entered the final weekend of 1984 with a chance to win the NFC East by defeating the Redskins, but Neil O'Donoghue missed a game-winning field goal at the gun, giving Washington a 29-27 victory and the division championship.

St. Louis started 1985 3-1, but finished 5-11, leading to the termination of coach Jim Hanifan after six seasons. Hanifan would return triumphantly to St. Louis, serving offensive line coach during the St. Louis Rams' Super Bowl championship season.

Gene Stallings, formerly the head coach at Texas A&M and a long-time assistant to Tom Landry with the Cowboys, replaced Hanifan. The Cardinals finished 4-11-1 in 1986, but improved to 7-8 in 1987, falling just one win shy of the playoffs, losing 21-16 on the final Sunday of the season to the Cowboys.

The 1987 season is remembered for a stunning comeback, rallying from a 28-3 deficit against the Buccaneers by scoring 28 points in the fourth quarter for a 31-28 victory. It remains the largest fourth-quarter comeback in NFL history.

The overall mediocrity of the Cardinals, combined with an old stadium, caused game attendance to dwindle, and once again the Bidwills decided to move the team, this time to either Baltimore, Phoenix, or Jacksonville. Nonetheless, Cardinals fans were unhappy at losing their team, and Bill Bidwill, fearing for his safety, stayed away from several of the 1987 home games. Their last home game was on December 13, 1987 (a 27-24 victory over the New York Giants in front of 29,623 fans on a late Sunday afternoon).[citation needed]

Arizona years (1988–present)Edit

Early years (1988–97)Edit

Not long after the 1987 season, Bidwill agreed to move to the Phoenix area on a handshake deal with state and local officials, and the team became the Phoenix Cardinals. Unfortunately, the savings and loan crisis gutted efforts to finance a new stadium, forcing the Cardinals to play at Arizona State University's Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.[7]

In March 1994, Bill Bidwill renamed the team the Arizona Cardinals due to fan preference (Bidwell had initially resisted the name "Arizona Cardinals" due to the NFL's tradition of team names that identified home cities).[8] The rest of the NFL owners quickly approved the name change.

The Cardinals spent most of their first decade in Arizona as a cellar dweller. This was in part because, in defiance of geographic reality, they remained in the NFC East—resulting in some of the longest road trips in the league. Attendance averaged roughly 35,000 in a 73,000-seat stadium, meaning that the Cardinals sold out an average of two home games a year and rarely appeared on local television. Arizona and New Mexico were traditionally a market for the Cowboys, and that team remained far more popular in the area. Bidwill was criticized for his low-budget approach to the team. The high draft picks from those losing years, more often than not, left the franchise and enjoyed greater success with other teams.

Gene Stallings remained the team's coach following the move from St. Louis to the desert. The Cardinals overcame close losses in the first two weeks to the eventual AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals and Dallas Cowboys, winning seven of their next nine games to improve to 7-4. The most memorable of these wins came against the San Francisco 49ers, as Phoenix erased a 23-0 deficit to win 24-23. Unfortunately, the team dropped its last five games, including two to the eventual division champion Philadelphia Eagles. Stallings announced his intent to resign following the 1989 season after a 37-14 loss to the Rams in week 11, but Bidwill instead fired Stallings at this point. Under interim coach Hank Kuhlmann, the Cardinals repeated their swoon of 1988, losing all five games under the new coach. Stallings returned to college football, leading the Alabama Crimson Tide to the 1992 national championship.

Bugel era (1990–93)Edit

Joe Bugel, the architect of the Redskins' famous "Hogs" offensive line in the 1980s, coached the Cardinals from 1990 to 1993, usually finishing last in the dominant NFC East, which produced the Super Bowl winner in each of those seasons (Giants in '90, Redskins '91, Cowboys '92-93). Bugel's first three teams finished 5-11 in 1990 and 4-12 in both 1991 and 1992 before improving to 7-9 in 1993. During the 1993 season, the Cardinals outscored their opponents by 57 points, but suffered eight losses by seven points or less, five of those setbacks coming to playoff teams. A three-game winning streak to close the season, including a 17-6 triumph over the playoff bound Giants, was not enough to save Bugel's job.

Ryan era (1994–95)Edit

Buddy Ryan replaced Bugel in 1994, serving as both general manager and head coach, but lasted only two seasons. He guaranteed victory in the 1994 week 3 game at the Cleveland Browns, which Cleveland subsequently won, 32-0. The Cardinals, who ranked third in the NFL in total defense in 1994 but suffered from a lack of consistency at quarterback, entered the final week of the season with an outside chance at a playoff berth, but a 10-6 loss to the Atlanta Falcons ended those hopes as Arizona finished 8-8.

The 1995 season saw the Cardinals drop to 4-12, including an embarrassing 27-7 loss to the expansion Carolina Panthers. Ryan's tenure ended on December 26, less than 24 hours after the Cardinals lost 37-13 to the Cowboys on Monday Night Football. Dallas returned to Sun Devil Stadium 34 days later and defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX.

Tobin era (1996–2000)Edit

1996Edit

Ryan was followed by Vince Tobin, who improved the Cardinals to 7-9 in 1996, led by defensive end Simeon Rice, the third overall pick who became the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and a rejuvenated Boomer Esiason at quarterback. Esiason threw for 522 yards in an overtime victory over the Redskins in the Cardinals' final game at RFK Stadium, and two weeks later led a fourth-quarter comeback against the playoff-bound Eagles. The 1996 season also featured a lowlight: a 31-21 loss at home to the New York Jets, the only game the Jets won during a 1-15 season.

1997Edit

The Cardinals fell back to 4-12 in 1997, but that season saw the debut of rookie quarterback Jake Plummer, who the previous season guided Arizona State to a remarkable 11-0 regular season before falling just short of the national championship with a loss to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. The highlight of the 1997 season was a 25-22 overtime victory over the Cowboys in week 2, ending Dallas' 13-game winning streak over the Cardinals which dated back to 1990. The momentum generated by the victory over the Cowboys was squandered with losses in the next two games, falling to the Redskins 19-13 in overtime in the first-ever game at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, and an 18-17 setback to the playoff-bound Buccaneers.

Playoff year (1998)Edit

During the 1998 season Jake Plummer enjoyed his greatest stretch of success during his tenure with the franchise, in terms of victories at least, as his quarterback rating was still an average 75.0. The team during that time had once again been dubbed the Cardiac Cards by the local and national media[9] as eight of their 16 regular-season games were decided by three points or less, and seven of those games ended in favor of the Cardinals. Solidifying their status as the team to beat in the clutch, the Cardinals, sporting a 6-7 record going into the 15th week, defated the Philadelphia Eagles in overtime on a field goal by Chris Jacke, then returned home to defeat the New Orleans Saints by two and the San Diego Chargers by three to clinch a wild-card playoff berth.

The close calls and the fact that none of their victories had been to teams with winning records (New Orleans was the best of the group at 6-10; San Diego was 5-11 and Philadelphia 3-13) made them heavy underdogs going into their Wild Card Playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys. Considering their two regular season losses to the Cowboys and the fact that they had been on the losing end of 16 of the last 17 games against their division rivals, including 9 straight losses at Texas Stadium,[10] the "Team of the Nineties" seemed to have history and ample statistical evidence on their side. To further the situation, the Cardinals franchise had not won a single playoff game since their title year of 1947, resulting in the longest active drought in professional sports history.

The Cardinals won the game 20-7; however, the final score made the game appear closer than it actually was, as Arizona dominated the Cowboys on both ends of the football throughout the game. At Texas Stadium that afternoon, the Cardinals jumped out to a 10–0 halftime lead. The Cardinals would later increase that lead to 20-0 in the final minutes of the 4th quarter. The Cowboys' only score was a touchdown late in the 4th quarter, and the Cardinals held on for the upset. The Cardinals, who had suffered for 51 years as the NFL's doormat, finally had a playoff win. However, the distinction was short lived as the Cardinals fell in the divisional round of the playoffs to the Minnesota Vikings who possessed a 15-1 record as well as the highest scoring offense in NFL history at the time. The Vikings won the game 41-21 in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis.[11]

1999Edit

Coming off their playoff run in 1998, the Cardinals were expected to do bigger and better things in 1999, but a tough schedule ranked in the top 5 as well as key injuries returned the team to their losing ways, getting off to a 2–6 start. However, the Cards would make another run, winning 4 straight games to get back into the playoff chase, but it was not meant to be; Arizona lost their last 4 games to finish with a disappointing 6–10 record.

McGinnis era (2000–03)Edit

Tobin was fired during the 2000 season and replaced by existing defensive coordinator Dave McGinnis, who remained head coach until his firing in 2003; McGinnis compiled a win-loss record of 17-40 during his tenure. In McGinnis' second game as head coach, Aeneas Williams tied an NFL record by returning a fumble 104 yards for a touchdown in a 16–15 victory over the Redskins. Other notable victories during McGinnis' tenure included a 34–31 overtime victory over the Oakland Raiders in 2001 in the Cardinals' first-ever visit to Oakland, and an 18-17 triumph in the final game of the 2003 season over the Minnesota Vikings, in which Josh McCown threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Nate Poole with no time left on the clock, eliminating the Vikings from the playoffs.

The Cardinals did not win more than seven games in any season between 1999 and 2006, and have had one of the worst yearly attendance records in the NFL. Sun Devil Stadium, during the time the Cardinals were a tenant there, gained a reputation for being one of the quietest stadiums in the NFL (which is a far cry compared to that facility's ASU home games). The few fans who did show up for games were most often rooting for the away team, partially due to the fact that much of Arizona's population during the winter months is composed of residents whose homestate lies elsewhere, creating such "home games" on the road for opposing teams. In addition, many of Arizona's permanent residents grew up in other states. Such incidents were most noticeable when teams with great national followings, such as the Packers, Bears, 49ers, Raiders, Patriots, Steelers and Cowboys, came into town.[12]

In 2002, the addition of the Houston Texans caused the NFL to realign into eight divisions of four teams each. The Cardinals were finally moved to the NFC West with the 49ers, Seahawks, and Rams, which made far more sense from a geographical standpoint.

Green era (2004–06)Edit

In 2004, the Cardinals hired former Vikings coach Dennis Green as their head coach. Prior to his signing with the Cardinals, he compiled a 97-62 record in ten seasons with Minnesota (1992–2001), leading that franchise to four NFC Central Division titles and two NFC Championship games. The Cardinals continued their mediocre ways, going 6-10 in 2004 and 5-11 in 2005, the final two seasons for the team in Sun Devil Stadium.

Tragedy struck the team on April 22, 2004 when former safety Pat Tillman, a popular player who was an All-American at Arizona State, was killed in Afghanistan while serving in the United States Army. Tillman left professional football following the 2001 season to serve in the military in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Tillman became the first NFL player to lose his life in war since Buffalo Bills offensive tackle Bob Kalsu died in 1970 during the Vietnam War. Tillman's jersey number 40 was retired at the Cardinals' first home game of 2004. In early 2005, Cardinals signed Kurt Warner to a one-year, 4 million dollar contract and later extending it to six years. Warner retired on Januaury 29, 2010. Matt Leinart was drafted tenth overall in the 2006 NFL draft. After four seasons, Leinart was released on September 4, 2010 and signed a one-year contract with the Houston Texans two days later.

New stadium (2006)Edit

In 2000, Maricopa County voters passed a ballot initiative by a margin of 51% to 49%, providing funding for a new Cardinals stadium (as well as for improvements to Major League Baseball spring training facilities in the greater Phoenix region; and youth recreation). After some legal obstacles, the Cardinals began construction of their new facility in April 2003, in Glendale, one of the western suburbs of Phoenix. University of Phoenix Stadium features a retractable roof and a slide-out grass surface, which is good for the hot desert weather; the new stadium has a state-of-the-art air conditioning system and high-back seats.

For some time, many team officials blamed Sun Devil Stadium for the Cardinals' woes. Being merely a tenant in a college-owned stadium denied the Cardinals access to many revenue streams that other NFL teams took for granted.

The 63,500-seat stadium (expandable to 72,800) opened on August 12, 2006 when the Cardinals defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-13, in a preseason game. The Cardinals then hosted their first regular season opening day game since moving to the Phoenix area in 1988, defeating the San Francisco 49ers in a rematch of the 2005 blowout in Mexico City, 34-27, in front of a sellout crowd of 63,407. In February 2008, the stadium hosted Super Bowl XLII.

Despite the new stadium, the team began the 2006 season with a 1-8 record, punctuated by a 24-23 loss to the Chicago Bears on October 16 (before a sellout crowd enjoying a rare Cardinals appearance on Monday Night Football) in which Arizona blew a 20-point lead in an extremely bizarre game as Chicago scored zero offensive touchdowns and the Cardinals led in several statistical categories including Time of Possession, Passing Yardage, Rushing Yardage, Giveaways, Takeaways, and Interceptions. Despite all the overwhelming statistical evidence the Bears capitalized on the two turnovers the Cardinals did commit, a pair of fumbles, and promptly returned them both for touchdowns. They also converted a punt return into a touchdown. The Cardinals had a chance to redeem themselves with a last minute field goal which would give them the victory, but their offense went into a conservative state and stalled just past midfield, which set up a 40 yard field goal attempt by Neil Rackers, which was wide left. Afterwards Dennis Green fired off an uncharacteristic, angry tirade in the postgame press conference, stating "The Bears are who we thought they were...and if you want to crown them, then crown their ass! The Bears are who we thought they were...and we let 'em off the hook!"

Following the game against the Bears, Green fired his offensive coordinator, Keith Rowen, and the focal point was the game's final drive with the conservative play calling being the reason behind the firing. In the first game after the Monday Night debacle, the Cardinals were dominated in a 22-9 loss to the previously winless Raiders, one of only two games Oakland won in 2006.

Whisenhunt era (2007–present)Edit

On January 1, 2007, after a 5-11 season and a 3-year record of 16-32, the Cardinals announced the firing of Green. After a brief period of speculation, Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was named the Cardinals head coach for the 2007 season.

In the 1st round of the 2007 NFL Draft, the Cardinals selected offensive tackle Levi Brown from Penn State with the fifth overall pick. The Cardinals selected cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie with their first pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.

The Cardinals finished 2007 with an 8–8 record, just their third non-losing record since moving to Arizona.

2008Edit

The Cardinals began the 2008 season by splitting their first four games, including a 56-35 loss to the New York Jets in which Jets quarterback Brett Favre threw six touchdown passes, and Arizona receiver Anquan Boldin suffered a fractured sinus and concussion following a helmet-to-helmet hit by Jet cornerback Eric Smith. Arizona recovered to win five of its next six games to improve to 7-3, but lost two games in a five-day stretch of late November to the Giants and Eagles. On Dec. 7, the Cardinals clinched the NFC West Division championship with a 34-10 victory at home over the St. Louis Rams to ensure the club's first playoff berth since 1998, as well as their first division title since 1975.

The Cardinals followed up winning the division title with two lackluster performances, losing at home 35-14 to the Minnesota Vikings, then suffering a 47-7 rout to the New England Patriots at a snowy Gillette Stadium. The Cardinals then defeated the Seattle Seahawks at home to clinch their first winning season since 1998, and thus avoided becoming the third team to win a division title with an 8-8 record (after the 1985 Cleveland Browns and 2008 San Diego Chargers).

On January 3, 2009 the Cardinals won their first home playoff game in 60 years (they never played a home playoff game while in St. Louis despite winning two division titles) by defeating the Atlanta Falcons 30-24 in the Wild Card Round. They then upset the Carolina Panthers 33-13 in Charlotte in the Divisional Playoffs. With the Philadelphia Eagles winning the next day, the Cardinals, as the only remaining NFC Division Champion, earned the right to host the first Championship Game in team history.

On January 18, 2009, the Cardinals defeated the Eagles 32-25 to advance to the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history. They lost Super Bowl XLIII 27-23 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

2009Edit

The 2009 Cardinals season started off with high expectations from fans following the team's improbable run to the Super Bowl the previous year. The Cardinals drafted Chris "Beanie" Wells with the 31st pick in the 2009 NFL Draft to help improve their lack of a running game with the loss of Edgerrin James. But, with the Cardinals losing their offensive coordinator, Todd Haley, to the Kansas City Chiefs and having contract disputes with certain players, many outsiders thought the Cardinals would not return to the playoffs. The Cardinals started the season with a frustrating loss to their division rival, the San Francisco 49ers. They regrouped by beating Jacksonville, but followed that with another embarrassing loss at home to the Indianapolis Colts. They quickly recovered after their bye-week, winning 6 of their next 7 games. While playing the Rams in Week 11, Kurt Warner sustained a concussion and sat out the game against Tennessee the following week. Matt Leinart took his place as starter in a 20-17 loss. After Warner returned, the Cardinals hosted Minnesota and inflicted a sensational 30-17 defeat on them. After that, they fell again to San Francisco with a score of 24-9 on Monday Night.

Coupled with a win over the Detroit Lions and loss from San Francisco to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cardinals clinched their second straight NFC West division title on December 20, 2009.

The Cardinals finished the season 10-6, which was the team's best record since moving to Arizona. In the final game of the year, they were blown out by the Green Bay Packers, 33-7. The game was meaningless to both teams in terms of playoff positioning. With a Minnesota victory just shortly before the start the Cardinals and Packers game, the Cardinals learned that they would be playing the same Packers team the following week in a NFC Wild Card game at home. Both teams took a different strategy to the game. The Packers decided to play their starters through three quarters, while the Cardinals played most of their starters for only a few plays.

With injuries being a factor the Cardinals started the NFC Wild Card game as a 2.5 point underdog at home on January 10, 2010. The Cardinals ended up beating the Green Bay Packers 51-45 in overtime in the highest scoring playoff game in NFL history, keeping alive the Packers-Cardinals rivalry which began on Nov. 20, 1921 when the two teams played to a 3-3 tie. With the playoff victory, the Cardinals earned the right to play the New Orleans Saints in the divisional playoff game on January 16, 2010.

The Packers game exposed Arizona's weak defense however, and they were out-gunned by the Saints during the Divisional playoff game, losing by a lop-sided score of 45-14. Kurt Warner went 17-26 for 205 yards passing, but failed to throw for any touchdowns. The Cardinals went 1-8 on 3rd down conversions. Warner was knocked out of the game in the second quarter when he threw an interception that was caught by Saints DE Will Smith. A few days after the game, Kurt Warner announced his retirement from the NFL. This took the team by surprise, as they had expected him to play for the last year of his contract.

2010Edit

After Kurt Warner's retirement, Matt Leinart was generally assumed to be his successor, but he was cut from the roster at the end of the preseason and then signed with the Houston Texans. This left Arizona's QB corps consisting of ex-Browns signal caller Derek Anderson and two rookie backups. After winning a close game against the Rams in Week 1, the team was crushed 41-7 in Atlanta before beating Oakland 24-23 in their first home game of the season. Another overwhelming defeat followed in San Diego before the team benched Derek Anderson in favor of rookie Max Hall. The next week however saw a 30-20 win over the defending champion Saints. After the bye week, the Cardinals disintegrated, losing seven in a row before beating 3-9 Denver in Week 14. Their playoff hopes all but evaporated after a 19-12 loss to the 1-10 Panthers.

ReferencesEdit

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